By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek …….
“Now is the time to build bridges. When the flood comes, and it will come, you need to be ready. It will be too late to prepare.”
Walter Perschke, the Chicago numismatist who famously set a world record when he paid more than US$400,000 for a 1787 Brasher Doubloon in 1979, passed away on May 20, 2016 after battling bladder cancer.
Long before Perschke rose to national prominence as a numismatist and coin industry expert, he started as a Windy City entrepreneur, launching a coin firm called Numisco, Inc. in 1968.
“I worked there for two years,” says Bob Greenstein of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. (HJB), another well-known Chicago-based coin dealership. “I was a freshman in college,” he says. Recalling that Perschke was often occupied with handling day-to-day matters at the company, Greenstein says his stint at Numisco from 1972 through 1974 was a pivotal first chapter in what became a lifelong career.
“It was my first job,” says Greenstein, who now serves as Chief Financial Operator at Berk Ltd.
Dennis Forgue, one of Greenstein’s colleagues at HJB, has vivid memories of the late Chicago dealer. Forgue was the auctioneer at the 1979 Rare Coin Company of America (RARCOA) auction in which Perschke bought the Brasher Doubloon, a rare pre-Federal United States gold coin. It had previously sold for $3,000 in 1922.
“Walter and another bidder were competing against the coin, and they bid for the coin by holding up a pencil in front of them,” recalls Forgue. “Nobody could see who was bidding.”
When the hammer finally dropped on the 1787 Brasher Doubloon for the then-world record price of $430,000, Forgue remembers that nobody knew immediately who had placed the successful bid. “Who was it, who was it?, everybody was yelling,” he relates of the buzz at Auction ’79.
The excitement was unsurprisingly palpable for the storied gold coin; only seven known specimens were struck by Ephraim Brasher, a New York City goldsmith who once called George Washington a neighbor. The Brasher Doubloon was a coin that, according to industry expert Scott Travers, helped Perschke make a “spectacular splash” in the numismatic world.
“I remember seeing Perschke interviewed on Louis Rukeyser’s Wall $treet Week and out [Perschke] comes making a dramatic entrance flipping his Brasher Doubloon on the air,” Travers chuckles. “It was the same coin that helped Perschke make a dramatic exit when it failed to bring what he expected,” he continues.
Indeed, Perschke was visibly shaken when his Brasher Doubloon, described as “Almost Uncirculated” in 1979 but later graded MS-63 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), failed to bring its anticipated price at the Heritage Auction Platinum Night sale in Orlando, Florida, during the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) convention.
“I felt that of any American coin, it probably has the most romance and the most enthusiastic interest among collectors,” said Perschke of the Brasher Doubloon in a 1987 Chicago Sun-Times interview. “It had the history. It had the pizzazz. It had the marketability.”
Like-thinking analysts believed the coin could fetch as much as $10 million, but it traded hands for the relatively small hammer price of $3.9 million ($4,582,500 with 17.5% buyer’s fee). Perschke, who held the coin for some 35 years, left the auction floor mere moments after bidding was over.
The previous year, however, Perschke had sold another seven-figure coin: the 1783 Nova Constellation Type II Quint Pattern coin, which sold for nearly $1.2 million in 2013. That’s more than 20 times the $55,000 he paid for it at the famous Bowers and Ruddy sale of the Garrett Collection in 1979.
“What I remember about Perschke is that he was a pioneering spirit who helped bring the world of investment into numismatics,” continues Travers. In addition to his multiple guest appearances on Wall $treet Week, Perschke wrote a finance column for the Chicago Daily News and produced his own Emmy-nominated television show called Ask an Expert, which appeared on Chicago television station WCIU-26.
He also wrote pamphlets and reports on such topics as gold and silver investing, rare coins and how to buy and sell at auction.
In 1986, Perschke was caught up in an undercover sting operation run by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as part of an aggressive campaign against numerous coin and bullion dealers around the country. He was charged with failing to report two cash sales amounting to more than $10,000 and ultimately pled guilty in 1992. As a result, Perschke was sentenced to a six-month prison term.
Yet through thick and thin, from his high school days until the end of his life, Perschke remained a devout numismatist.
In recent years he had also turned to a higher calling, buying the metaphysical Monthly Aspectarian magazine in 2014 and renaming it Conscious Community magazine. He also served as president of Chicago’s Spiritual Learning Center, where he led various camps and retreats.
Perschke is survived by his children Kurt, Ian, Lara, and Adam; his brothers John and William; and his granddaughter Lily. A public memorial service is planned for June 26 at Unity Church in Chicago, and donations may be made to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Walter Perschke was born in McHenry, Illinois, on February 25, 1939. He was 77 years old.
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